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A Look A How College-Educated White Women Are Leaning In Georgia's Gubernatorial Race

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Atlanta, which is also where you will find Oprah Winfrey today. Vice President Mike Pence is in Georgia, too. Barack Obama arrives tomorrow. Donald Trump plans this weekend, which tells you something about quite how big a battleground Georgia is shaping up to be in the midterms. The big names are here to fire up voters, especially in the hotly contested governor's race. And one of the biggest prizes on Tuesday is a group of voters that's been called soccer moms, security moms - suburban, college-educated, white, well-off women who have tended in past to vote Republican here in Georgia. Whether they will do so again next week is a big question in Atlanta's sprawling, increasingly diverse suburbs.

Suburbs which we are deep into now. We're in north Atlanta headed to meet three voters - all women, all white and all coming at Tuesday's election from really different directions.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL RINGING)

SALLY RIKER: Hi.

KELLY: Hi.

RIKER: Come in.

KELLY: How are you today?

RIKER: How are you?

KELLY: I'm Mary Louise.

RIKER: Hey, Mary Louise. I'm Sally Riker.

KELLY: Sally.

RIKER: Hey.

KELLY: Sally Riker is our hostess. She has agreed to let us all get together at her house here in the North Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. We settle in around her coffee table, water and lemon seltzer in hand. And I ask how the three of them feel about the state of the country heading into Tuesday's vote. Chelsea Magee talks first. She is 33, account manager at a financial planning firm, committed Republican.

CHELSEA MAGEE: I feel like everyone's polarized, and it's heartbreaking to me.

KELLY: Next, Sally chimes in. She's 42, by the way, owns her own consulting business, voted mostly Democratic in the past.

RIKER: I feel like politics overall has really hit a new low. You know, I'm just heartbroken as well, discouraged.

MELANIE COUCHMAN: I would echo what Chelsea and Sally have said.

KELLY: This is Melanie Couchman. She's 69, retired entrepreneur, voted Republican pretty much her whole life. But she went for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

COUCHMAN: I'm scared. Being the older one in the group, I'm really worried about how - when it's my time to pass on how this country's going to - how I'm going to leave it, really.

KELLY: Well, if these three women sound united in how down they are about the state of the country and political discourse these days, they are not united in how they plan to express that come Tuesday.

Let me ask all three of you. Are you planning to vote on Tuesday? Or you've already voted. You're going to...

MAGEE: I've already voted.

KELLY: You're going to engage in this election.

COUCHMAN: I've already voted.

RIKER: I'm going to vote.

KELLY: So what issues are top of their minds in this midterm election? Melanie throws out immigration, tax cuts. She is the one who voted mostly Republican for more than 50 years. This year, in the governor's race, she's backing Stacey Abrams, the Democrat.

COUCHMAN: It was really gut-wrenching for me to make that decision. But I just really was really turned off by Brian Kemp's commercials with a shotgun sitting in the back of his pickup truck, with a young person...

KELLY: This is the Republican candidate here.

COUCHMAN: The Republican candidate - especially in today's environment with the shootings in Florida at the school. And I voted before the bombs and the massacre in Pittsburgh, but I feel comfortable that I made the right choice.

KELLY: How about you, Sally?

RIKER: To be honest, I'm kind of dreading voting because there's so much slander and just - you know, I really almost just hate even trying to do research really anymore because it's all - it's difficult.

KELLY: Did you think about not voting? I mean, how hard did you weigh that?

RIKER: I - yes, I do think about not voting. But then I think about everybody who, you know, fights for our rights to vote. And so for me, it's not an option. It's just a painful thing.

KELLY: Chelsea, what issue is driving you to the polls on Tuesday?

MAGEE: So I've already voted, and I voted for straight Republican ticket.

KELLY: And it matters to you to vote Republican, to party loyalty, voting along party lines.

MAGEE: I've not always voted party lines, but I do for the most part.

KELLY: Let me put the - this same question to each of you. How much does it matter to you whether you're voting for a Republican, Democrat, voting along party lines versus for an individual or issues in this race in 2018, Melanie?

COUCHMAN: I think in this race, it doesn't really matter much. I think in the past, I've embraced a lot of the conservative values. But I just - I feel differently this year, so I'm going more on issues.

KELLY: Sally, how about you? Do you care which party you're voting for on Tuesday?

RIKER: I in the past have only been a Democrat. But I think that this last three years has been really difficult with just the rhetoric and the language. And I am going to probably vote for Stacey. But the gun ads did bother me. And actually, frankly, I didn't like - they were running when the kids were around. And I do my best to keep guns out of our house. And I really don't even like any violence on the TV. So I didn't really think it was funny when there are all these mass shootings everywhere right now. So...

KELLY: Chelsea, how about you? Do you want to respond to that, or...

MAGEE: I mean, I own guns. I've been around guns my whole life. I'm a huge advocate for women empowerment, and I believe that guns play a part in that. And everything else just kind of coming on the heels. I'm like, why don't we as women, like, protect ourselves? And I definitely feel safer carrying a firearm.

KELLY: I'm curious. In this year's election, Trump is not on the ballot anywhere. How much is he on your minds as you think about who to vote and how you feel about the issues, Sally?

RIKER: So part of how I feel is, you know, very polarizing because of Trump. I do not share Trump's values, his leadership style, anything that he is about. Yes, the economy's doing great, and our 401(k)s are great. But on the flip side of that, we - you know, there are a lot of things that are completely upside-down from the environment to the way that we treat women to children. And I can go on and on with every day things that are happening. So when I find that out, it flips me instantly.

KELLY: So Trump coming to campaign for a local candidate would make you less likely to vote for that person...

RIKER: Yes, absolutely.

KELLY: ...Rather than the other way...

RIKER: Yes. Yes.

KELLY: ...Around. Yep. Chelsea, are you voting on local issues, national issues? Do even make that distinction? Trump on your mind?

MAGEE: How can Trump not be on your mind? He's on the news every day. I was not - I was a Never Trumper going into the presidential election.

COUCHMAN: That's good to hear.

MAGEE: And I did actually end up voting for him. But it was hard. Like, I had to vote absentee ballot, and my ballot sat there on my desk. And I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed about it and cried and prayed. And now we're coming into this election, and, you know, I see the great decisions that he's making from an economic standpoint. And sometimes he's saying one thing but something else is - the opposite's being done, something that we do actually like. But I tell people all the time - I'm like, I really wish that Trump would take it from, like, a 12 to an eight, and I think everyone would like him a lot more.

KELLY: Tone down the rhetoric is what you're saying.

MAGEE: Tone it down.

KELLY: Chelsea Magee - we also talked with Melanie Couchman and Sally Riker. Elsewhere in the program today, we are headed to the Statehouse to check in on claims of voter suppression here in Georgia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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